Paris was the perfect hunting ground for a printmaker wishing to depict modern life.
The boulevards, parks and squares designed by Baron Haussmann were a theatre of spectacle, where there was always something to experience and everyone eagerly watched everyone else.
In his famous essay ‘Le Peintre de la vie moderne’ in 1863, the poet and critic Charles Baudelaire declared that the ephemeral, lively and transient city was above all else the symbol of modern life.
The street as place of encounter
The boulevard was the place where members of the different social classes, normally living in strict segregation, encountered one another. It was here that the bourgeois crossed paths with the prostitute, and where aristocratic and working-class women stood side-by-side to admire shop-window displays.
In his print The Uniform, Hermann-Paul showed an intersection where soldier and priest, capitalist and proletarian, man and woman, young and old cross paths.
Yet despite this, there is no true interaction between the different types in their respective ‘uniforms’: each hurries past the other, their haste emphasised by the clock on the wall.
Bonnard and the fleeting moment
Pierre Bonnard took a walk through Paris every morning, soaking up fleeting impressions of the city and chance encounters in the street.
Back at his studio, he combined these fragmentary images in his paintings and prints.
These works do not function as windows to reality. Rather, they offer an intensely personal and poetic vision of the shadowy passers-by and large crowds of the Parisian streets.
Charles Baudelaire, Le Peintre de la vie moderne, 1863
Ursula Perucchi-Petri, Die Nabis und das moderne Paris. Bonnard, Vuillard, Vallotton und Toulouse-Lautrec, aus der Sammlung Arthur und Hedy Hahnloser-Bühler und aus Schweizer Museums- und Privatbesitz, Bern 2011
Bridget Alsdorf, ‘Bonnard’s Sidewalk Theater’, Nonsite 14, 2014 nonsite.org